Left of the Dot has developed a platform to enable premium domain name holders to lease sub-domain inventory to small businesses, creating significant new, recurring, revenue streams for the domain holder. The monetization service leases these “Marketing Names” along with a fully-equipped, ecommerce-ready website to small businesses giving them a highly-brandable web presence. Co-founder, Chris Jensen gave me the first opportunity to ask some questions.
Mike: LeftofTheDot.com is pretty descriptive of what your company represents. I think we’ve all seen sub-domains in use, but can you tell me where the idea to base a business on this concept came from?
Chris: John Lyotier, our Co-Founder, and I have been talking about this business model for at least 10 years; our contention has always been that great domain names should bring together subject matter experts and their customers. In practice most of these experts are individuals or small businesses – they want to be online, they want to be found and they want to control their own message. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of them building a web site is a daunting prospect, all the great domain names are gone, SEO is a foreign language and they don’t want to pay a strange geek every time they need to change their site. Left of the Dot solves all those issues; we build them a good starter site, they get access to a great domain name (that they could never afford to buy), the SEO takes care of itself and they have a simple toolkit to make their own changes. When you combine that with a low monthly fee and no long term contract it is an easy sell, people instinctively understand and like the model.
It has become increasingly clear that great domain names need to be turned into profitable business units if they are to realize their true potential and value, you can’t rely on parking any more. Experience shows that Domainers are hardly ever the best people to build out these sites because they are not subject matter experts and they do not live and breathe that business vertical. What Domainers really want is a low resource, low risk, high return business that has multiple sources of reliable revenue and which increases the value of their domain name. In a nutshell that is Left of the Dot.
Mike: I first saw your work in action with Beef.com, as I blogged about last year. What other names are you leveraging this concept on?
Chris: Yes, you were really quick on that, we only reached out to a few ranchers and you were straight on to us! Beef.com was our proof of concept site and the domain owner has been a great partner for us, very supportive. We have a new look Beef.com in the works that will be out soon and which implements many of the lessons we have learned over the past several months. Our second site launched was www.Villa.com which we are very pleased with, because it is performing exceptionally well. We have 2 more sites in production with a February target launch date and another dozen or so names lined up in our delivery funnel. I can’t give you specific names until they are ready to go but they are all single word, premium generics.
Mike: How do owners of the core domain, like Beef.com, make money?
Chris: From multiple sources; the domain owner gets an agreed amount from each sub-domain, we manage advertising on the main site with a revenue share and each site has a specific business model that we share with the owner. Our target is that the ad revenue alone should exceed parking revenue because our sites attract search engine traffic and link traffic as well as direct navigation traffic. This means that the site specific revenue and the sub-domain fees are additional sources of revenue to the owner. For many of the domains we work with, we are building real, functioning businesses supported by sales and marketing which increases the overall asset value of the name.
Mike: While I know the concept has been in beta, can you share some statistics on your success to date?
Chris: It is still early because www.villa.com was the first site on our new platform, however I can say that we are already exceeding the previous revenue by a considerable factor, traffic is growing, the number of sub-domains is ahead of target and the site specific business is generating income. So all in all we are very pleased at this stage.
Mike: How are sub-domains treated by search engines such as Google?
Chris: Provided the sub-domains are tightly relevant, contain valuable content and provide a positive visitor experience they do very well. For example we have one name in development that has 300 pre-existing sub-domains and over 150 of them rank 1 – 3 for their term in the Google SERP’s. We know that Google is, quite correctly, constantly on the lookout for people that are gaming the system and one of the strengths of our model is that real experts have a vested, financial interest in making their sub-domains as valuable to visitors as possible. We believe in the old adage that if you are fair with Google, Google is fair with you. And since every domain name represents a silo of knowledge around a specific vertical or topic, and every sub-domain – though treated as its own site in the eyes of the engines — supports this silo of knowledge, but with a more-specific concept match, then this becomes valuable, relevant information for the search engines themselves. In short, we are being nice to Google.
Mike: Do you think some end users will see this as a better alternative to some of the newer TLDs, such as .CO?
Chris: Definitely, with any non .com tld you are always faced with the battle of inspiring potential visitor confidence and creating SEO from a standing start. Would you rather buy mexicanvilla.co, build a site, create content, try to get it to rank as a new site on a new domain name and manage your own hosting or would you rather pay a monthly fee to have www.Mexican.Villa.com that comes with a starter site where you simply add your content, that gets legitimate support from a large, authority site and where the hosting and technical support are taken care of for you. Domainers may like option 1, but the vast majority of individuals or small businesses favour the second option, it is simply easier, more accessible and lower risk.
Mike: Are you currently accepting domain submissions for the LOTD service? If so, what criteria are required to qualify?
Chris: Our plan is to launch no more than a few sites per month initially and we have enough premium domain names available to us for a while. The response from Domainers has been excellent. With that said we are always looking for great names that we can work with and our individual site launch schedule is flexible as we are offered new names.
Our current primary categories are Business Categories, Geo Domains and Professions. We are also interested in rolling out to Product Categories and potentially Social Groups. At this stage all of our names must be premium, category defining and .com.
Mike: What means are you using to get the word out about LOTD?
Chris: Well, so far we have had great support from our existing contacts within the Domaining industry. Many people have contacted us to ask about Left of the Dot, offer help or suggestions and suggest names that may be suitable. We have presented a couple of times at TRAFFIC and we will be at DOMAINFest. We realize that there are a limited number of people that own suitable names and we will approach these people on an individual basis.
We have a detailed marketing and publicity plan for each of the sites that we launch and these target the individual markets specifically. You are probably more likely to hear about Left of the Dot via one of our sites than you are about us as a company – exactly in the way that you heard about us!